Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Entitlement is not a popular concept, not today anyway.

Listen to any conversation about the urban poor and the idea is bound to come up, usually in a very negative context.

Welfare recipients (and there aren't many left these days, now almost a decade into welfare reform) are "on the dole" and continue to depend on public assistance, thanks to their "entitlement mentality," the conversation goes.

Food stamps, Medicaid, public housing, child care subsidies, even Social Security, are regarded as "entitlement" programs, involving "entitlement spending."

Such thinking is relatively new, dating from the early 1980s.

The notion that the weak, the poor, the infirm, the young, the old, the immigrant, the dispossessed and the left out would receive special, empowering, uplifting benefit from the larger society is rooted in the traditions and the faith of a Judeo-Christian worldview.

It is our current obsession with radical individualism that is modern by definition. This obsession poses grave dangers to our culture, to our urban areas and to our future as a society and a nation.

The Hebrew Bible offers up a much different view and understanding of human "entitlement" in the blessed community.

Consider these examples from the hundreds there are to draw upon:

"The righteous know the rights of the poor; the wicked have no such understanding." (Proverbs 29:7).

"God executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing." (Deut. 10:15)

"Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless." (Isaiah 10:1-2).

A growing number of people make much of the supposed Judeo-Christian origins and values of our nation. In opposing any thought of the provision of special "entitlements" for the weak, they cause me to wonder if they really understand the faith and values of historic Judaism or Christianity.

Clearly the mind behind scripture understood the benefits of investing in people who needed a lift due to circumstances, birth, injustice or the failure of social systems.


Beverly Choate Dowdy said...

I believe you are right. I think about Ruth gleaning from the field of Boaz. I think about the resentment many Christian Americans feel toward civil authority expecting any of their productivity being reserved for the poor

A disconnect.

Contempt for the poor seems more common than compassion in some current Christian conversation.

Anonymous said...

THis reminds me of what i have heard about Jimmy Carter's new book. haven't read it, hope to do so. Thanks for the reminder to put this on my list!

Eric Livingston said...

Couple those scriptures with the principle of Jubilee that the Jews practiced every 50 years (once a generation or so) and it is pretty clear that our Maker did not intend for us to store up vasts amounts of wealth while others in our community are unable to meet their basic needs.

Perhaps we should be storing up treasures in heaven!